Monday, December 30, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a real (complicated) treasure

With dragons, leaping elves and frightening creatures aplenty, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is ablaze with thrilling over-the-top fantasy adventure. 


ARTH VADER (AV): J.R.R. Tolkien’s world—and the the books and films that comprise it—are the very definition of continuity. While the Hobbit is one of the most beloved and famous fantasy properties of the 20th century, The Desolation of Smaug is the second of three movies to weave the cinematic take of the Hobbit. The movie breathes new, expanded life into Tolkien’s rich pre-ring war world. As a powerful prequel to The Lord of The Rings trilogy, this film really draws out wondrous beauty of Middle-Earth. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I said earlier in the review of the first film about how excited I was that they were making three movies from a single book, and this could really delve into the detail of the book to make the movie as close to the book as possible. Boy was I wrong. I’m a huge fan of Legolas… but he doesn’t appear anywhere in the book. Why then is he so prominent in the film? I enjoyed his parts, but every one was a slap in the face of continuity.


AV: Pontificator, the cast features a return of all the players from film one. With a couple of new faces (and voices!) we just have to discuss. First, the characters are, for the most part, one-dimensional. The story telling demands it, and I am ok with it with a cast almost too deep to keep track of, the only new character we really should discuss is the massive dragon, Smaug. Voiced with the infallible voice of Benedict Cumberbatch. Next, we should discuss the rich, unspoiled landscapes of New Zealand, which I am convinced, is a little slice elf heaven on Earth. Like each of Director Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings master pieces, this film features breathtaking landscapes as well as heart-stopping, beautifully rendered CGI environments. More on that in a moment. Because we have to talk about Peter Jackson’s direction. A master of cinematic brilliance, Peter Jackson knows how to engage his audience and delight us with visuals I'm only barely able to be described. Jackson’s cinematic visuals are almost as fantastic as the stories he tells, would you agree, P-Man? 

TP: I certainly agree Vader. The cast from the first film have returned, with a few additions. As expected, Martin Freeman continues to deliver as Bilbo. Richard Armitage continues to make Thorin a character that is interesting. Enter now Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a Wood Elf and Captain of the Guard, wonderfully played and interestingly used in a love triangle between Legolas and Kili (Aidan Turner). I was especially appreciative of the talent of Luke Evans as Bard, and excellent portrayal. I must admit to being remiss to the fact that Azog, the Orc chieftain and bane of the Dwarves is played by none other than Manu Bennet (Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke the Terminator on the television series Arrow).

AV: In an age when visual effects are beyond stunning, this film is just plain gorgeous Ponty. The environments, the character effects and the fantastic creatures all come to vibrant life. And that’s where the real magic of The Desolation Of Smaug comes to life. Cumberbatch’s hauntingly inspired voice over of the dragon Smaug is some of the best voice work in the history fantasy films. What’s more, the incredible scene where Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is slyly conversing with the dragon makes this whole movie and is honestly worth the price of admission. The lighting, the synchronicity of the creature’s movements and the audio effects of the dragon moving through a veritable sea of gems, coins and treasure is awesome. The cinematic presentation of Smaug is stunning and is quite honestly, for me old friend, the best part of this film. By far.

TP: Before I even get into how great the special effects were (cause you KNOW that’s what I’m going to say), let me just reiterate; if you’re not seeing this film in IMAX 3D, you are doing yourself a disservice and should be criminally prosecuted by the pleasure center of your brain in the court of perceptual euphoria. Yes, read all that again and understand that special effects were perfected for films like this…or this is the perfect film for awesome special effects (pick one). All the awe of the first film’s effects return, but with one added feature… Smaug! In one word… incredible!

AV: After five films, Middle Earth is still wondrous, Ponty but I must say, the magic is waning. Look this movie is a s cool-looking as they get and the usual suspects; Gandalf, the Dwarves, Lady Galadriel yeah, they’re all here but Pontificator, but I gotta say, not feeling this one. Sure it looks great, but the oddities, while subtle, as plentiful. An older-looking (but decidedly younger per the story) Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the over-the-top—and way too long—river fight chase where CGI’d Elves and Orcs battle by the banks of a fast-moving river filled with wine barrels that are whisking our heroes on their adventure is surprisingly amateurish and not well-handled. The story pacing is sporadic but the biggest hole is in how long and drawn out the story is. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit as a quick, world-building prequel. Peter Jackson’s storytelling notwithstanding, this movie tells a story that may be too long and too convoluted for even the most ardent Tolkien fan. This movie is good but I fear looses the audience in too much lore. Ponty, your take? 

TP: This film had the opportunity for total perfection Vader. I mean, when you take the time to break down a book into a trilogy of three hour films, you have a unique opportunity to have the book read, visually and in great detail, on the silver screen. I think that opportunity was missed in deference to trying draw more people to the box office through character recognition, hence the inclusion of Legolas into a story he was never a part of. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film anyway and thought his parts were among the most entertaining, but I think the film could have been just as good without deviating so much from the source material. If liberties were to be taken in the film, then I fail to see why they could not have been taken by those characters already a part of the story instead of making such blatant and obvious additions. 


AV: Well, after a cliff-hanger ending like the one that this movie leaves us in, the next installment is sure to be flying in on the wings of a football field-sized dragon. This elongated story will come to it’s pre-determined climax Christmas of 2014 and Ponty, I am really excited to see how this all comes together for Bilbo and his home–seeking band of brave elves. 

TP: I said it in the last review of The Hobbit and I’ll repeat it now… I’m really looking forward to the multi-army battle galore that will take place in 2014!  I have been waiting, since opening day, to see how the Battle of Five Armies will play out onscreen and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be absolutely epic.


ARTH VADER rates The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug: This movie is fun, big and bold and like all of Jackson’s Middle-Earth sojourns, the audience will not be disappointed at the feature. While the much anticipated prequel of the ‘war of the ring’ is fun, the whole story getting a bit long in the tooth. Still, with eye-popping 3D effects (definitely worth it by the way) and wonder to behold, you would be missing out NOT to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in theaters. That’s why this humble fan reaches into the treasure room of the lonely mountain and pull out eight (8) solid, if not slightly busted blocks.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: I’m an absolute fan of these films and will never understand the mental workings of those that aren’t, although I fully accept the phenomenon. Despite the slight departure from the source material, this film is a visual and audio blockbuster of the highest order and easily takes prominence as one of the best films of the year. Even though it feels like a middle movie, this Middle Earth installment still drives an Elvish sword through nine (9) blocks.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: 8.5 / 10 Busted Blocks

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